Denver officers in line to get better safety gear

The mayor's 2008 budget proposal includes 488 kits to help protect cops responding to attacks or disasters.

By Christopher N. Osher
The Denver Post  

DENVER, Colo. — Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper's proposed 2008 budget would buy a third of the city's police officers' safety gear to protect them if they become first responders to chemical, radiological, biological or nuclear attacks.

In budget requests submitted this summer, police officials had said 1,200 personal protective equipment response kits in use were too old to work properly and asked for 1,050 new kits and two fit-testing machines at a cost of $611,250.

The kits are considered a crucial defense for officers who may become first responders to an attack by weapons of mass destruction.

The kits include respirators, gas masks and protective gloves and boots. Gas masks in the old kits were flawed because they didn't allow for hydration by the user, police said.

Hickenlooper's proposed budget would spend $244,000 in 2008 to buy 488 kits.

"The stuff we'll be getting will be state of the art," said Police Chief Gerry Whitman.

Denver police in their budget requests had stressed that 300 officers did not have gear.

But city officials said Hickenlooper also had appropriated $220,000 for 450 kits in the 2007 budget cycle. The newer kits have a 20-year shelf life and also will allow hydration when the gas masks are used.

Whitman said the Police Department still hasn't spent that $220,000 but plans to make the purchases before the end of this year. He didn't get funding for a safety coordinator to help the department meet federal regulations, as he had requested. He said he still may redeploy personnel and put a single person in charge of safety issues.

The money budgeted for new safety kits is a fraction of the $415.7 million Hickenlooper expects to spend on safety issues next year. In all, the mayor budgeted $866.5 million for all city services. The City Council still must act on the budget, and the administration plans to brief council members over the coming weeks.

The safety budget also projects hiring 56 police officers next year at a time when the city typically sees more than 70 officers retire in a given year. Whitman said the police force has been slightly over its authorized strength in recent months and that he expects the actual number of police officers to come in line with his authorized strength next year.

The budget also projects cutting overtime paid to officers who work at Denver International Airport by more than $800,000 because operations there will be fully staffed.

In addition, the city is budgeting an increase of $7.3 million to pay the first year of a three-year contract for police officers. That contract increases pay for officers by 14 percent over three years.

The city also will hire an extra forensic scientist at a cost of $70,000 to help reduce a backlog of cases awaiting DNA analysis.

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